Steve Staios remembers the chair.
“I was seven years old, living in Hamilton and a coach asked if I wanted to play hockey,” said the newest member of the Leafs management team.
Soccer was the sport in the Staios household. Staios was a first-generation Canadian born to Macedonian parents who lived above and operated a convenience store in Hamilton’s Westdale neighborhood.
“I had to have a cousin show me how the equipment went on,” he said.
While the other kids where wheeling around the rink, Staios struggled to stand up. Finally he was given a chair to push while the other kids practiced.
Staios was humiliated. “I came home and told my parents I never wanted to go back but I did. The next week I fell a little less. The next week a little less.”
Staios had embarked on a journey that would take him to junior hockey in Niagara Falls and Sudbury. Drafted by St. Louis Blues in the second round of the 1991 draft (Eric Lindros, the first overall pick generated a bit more buzz), Staios never played a game for the Blues. He would play 168 minor league games before being called up to the NHL to play his first NHL game beside Hall of Famer Ray Bourque.
The Bruins won that game 3-0. The next game Mark Messier blew by Staios and scored. The kid from Hamilton had seen the summit and valleys within two games. For the rest of his career Staios would work to maximize a good but not great skill set.
Staios spent two seasons in Vancouver, three in Atlanta where he was named captain, seven in Edmonton and two more with Calgary. He played his 1001st and final game last season with the New York Islanders as a 38-year-old.
Leafs GM Brian Burke approached Staios this spring and asked him to join the management team as a player development advisor. An opening arose in the management group when Rick Dudley left to take a job as the assistant GM of the Montreal Canadiens.
“Usually I insist that a player spends a year outside the game before hiring him but I made an exception with Steve because he was such a good candidate,” Burke said recently.
“I learned during the lockout that I wasn’t very good at being idle,” said Staios. “I was fortunate to be able to move right into this position. One thing I could bring to the job was a pretty good knowledge of the league.”
Staios will work with prospects and players under contract as well as provide scouting input on current NHLers.